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Not All at NYU Are Feelin' 22

SHANTEL DESTRA, HOST: Universities love famous commencement speakers. Howard University is particularly good at getting them.

The year Black Panther came out, the school got Chadwick Boseman.

CHADWICK BOSEMAN: I love you, Howard. Howard forever!

DAVID NEWTOWN, HOST: Another year, graduating students heard from Barack Obama, while he was still president.

BARACK OBAMA: Congratulations class of 2016! Good luck! God bless you!

DESTRA: This year, New York University has scored another major celebrity as commencement speaker.

MUSIC: "22 (Taylor's Version)" By Taylor Swift. Lyrics: "I don't know about you, but I'm feelin' 22!"

NEWTOWN: That’s right. NYU’s class of 2022 will hear from Taylor Swift. Some students are totally thrilled. But as Lucy Grindon finds, others are worried that Swift’s fame may throw a wrench in their graduation plans.

LUCY GRINDON, BYLINE: Last month, Joselyn Molina was still on the fence about whether she was even going to graduation. She works with the New York City Fire Department, and the ceremony is on a Wednesday, May 18th, which means missing a workday. But when Molina heard that Taylor Swift was gonna be the speaker…

JOSELYN MOLINA: I was gonna go. At that point, it was pretty automatic that I was gonna go.

GRINDON: Molina booked her ticket the day she heard. She also reserved two more tickets. Her parents will be going to a smaller ceremony for just her program, so she gave one graduation ticket to her partner. She’s giving the other to a friend. Not necessarily her best friend, but the one she knew would appreciate the ticket the most.

MOLINA: She wasn’t the first person that I would invite to my commencement, but because Taylor Swift was the speaker, I did invite her

GRINDON: Meet Briset Hurtado, 28, graphic designer and Taylor Swift fan.

BRISET HURTADO: I find Taylor to be a very personal thing.

GRINDON: What’s your favorite song of hers? Can you pick one?

HURTADO: No, that’s illegal.

GRINDON: Mostly, she’s just excited to see Taylor Swift in person.

HURTADO: I haven’t seen her in a couple years. And I would like to.

GRINDON: But for some students, fans are causing a problem.

Since so many students took off time during the pandemic, the class of 2022 is NYU’s largest ever. In an email sent to students, the university said it has 19,000 graduates. And each grad can only invite two guests. If they want a third ticket, they have to enter a lottery. Any unclaimed tickets go back into that lottery. But fewer tickets are going unclaimed this year, in part because of Taylor Swift.

KAREN MILANYA: I get two tickets, so it’s really hard.

GRINDON: Karen Milanya is an international student. Her parents live here in the US, but she also has two cousins and a childhood friend flying in from Kenya to celebrate her graduation. With just two tickets for all those people, she has an impossible choice on her hands.

MILANYA: I was having this discussion with my sister. And I told her that I was going to just take the people who would be coming from Kenya because they would want to have this experience. She gave me this cold look and went like, "So what are they supposed to do, just sit in the house like they don't matter" Don’t they matter?"

GRINDON: Now Milanya’s thinking she might not even attend because choosing among her family members is just too stressful. Complicating things even more, NYU’s student news website The Click recently reported that Taylor Swift fans, known as “Swifties,” are offering to pay hundreds of dollars for graduation tickets online.

MILANYA: They do not attend NYU. They are just fans of Taylor Swift and they are willing to pay for tickets.

GRINDON: NYU strictly prohibits selling graduation tickets, but it’s easy for students to advertise anonymously online. Once they’ve sold a ticket, all students need to do is enter the name and email address of the buyer on the graduation ticket website. And they can always claim the buyers are just their friends.

NYU did not respond to multiple requests for comment about what they’re doing to try to prevent students from selling tickets.

So how does a school handle a big commencement speaker? Howard didn’t get back to me about how it handled Obama and Chadwick Boseman. Brown, which has hosted Hamilton Star Daveed Diggs and actor John Krasinski, said they couldn’t help either.

Of course, schools’ efforts to get celebrities may not even matter to some students

In Washington Square Park on a recent afternoon, NYU senior Asata Spears says that personally, she couldn’t care less that Taylor Swift is the speaker.

ASATA SPEARS: She’s a great performer, but I wouldn't think of her as someone to come and speak at one of the best universities in the country. And she’s also not singing, so I don't know why it's such a big deal.

GRINDON: Spears entered the lottery, though, hoping to get an extra ticket for a sibling.

Lucy Grindon, Columbia Radio News.


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